Ryman League: Prior’s on fire with opening-day Rocks hat-trick

Jason Prior - pictured facing Pompey - scored three in the opening-day win over Merstham / Picture by Tommy McMillan
Jason Prior - pictured facing Pompey - scored three in the opening-day win over Merstham / Picture by Tommy McMillan
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The Rocks got off to a winning start at home to promoted Merstham thanks to a Jason Prior hat-trick and a goal by new signing Gary Gharman.

Bognor will want to forget the goals they conceded but instead focus on the positives in their attacking play.

After mixed results in pre-season, the Rocks were hoping for a performance similar to the ones that had seen them hold Pompey and Gosport and beat Pagham.

The major absentee from the Bognor line-up was Doug Tuck, still recovering from injury. New man Charman, a 30-year-old ex-Horsham midfielder, got a start, with Pompey youngsters Snorre Nilsen and Chad Field on the bench.

Craig Robson’s long through ball towards Ollie Pearce was just too much in the early stages as Merstham stopper Daly Brannon gathered.

Jake Thomson’s free-kick on the right looked destined for Sami El-Abd but it was too high for the defender to direct his header goalwards.

Prior was the stand-out player and he will be a key man if the Rocks are to mount a serious promotion bid this season.

El-Abd down tried a pass back buwas closed down by Reece Hall. Luckily keeper Grant Smith had come out to gather it before the striker could get a shot away.

A defensive error on Merstham’s part led to Bognor taking the lead on just four minutes. Prior pounced on a loose pass and spotted Brannon off his line before blasting into the net.

Smith’s level-headed play allowed him to come out of his box to chest down and clear a bouncing ball.

Merstham were awarded a penalty on 12 minutes. Mitchel Abnett went to ground under a challenge by Smith and the referee pointed straight to the spot. Tommy Hutchings stepped up to slot home into the bottom right corner to draw level.

Jake Thomson lost the ball in midfield allowing Hall in, but his ambitious effort was miscued. Hall again cut inside from the left but his instant shot was well stopped by Smith.

A Thomson corner fell to Robson, who chipped the ball around his marker before striking the ball on the bounce. Unfortunately his attempt whizzed narrowly over the bar.

Smith had to punch clear a corner and Hutchings cut inside from the right before scuffing his shot wide on 25 minutes.

Prior received treatment from the physio for a cut above the left eye and had to change his shirt, allowing some of the players to take a drinks break, much welcomed in the heat.

Ollie Pearce tried to work his way down the left but he was closed down by a defender.

Prior scored again for Bognor on 34 minutes as Bognor’s neat build-up play paid off. The ball fell to Prior kindly after hard work from Alex Parsons, and the striker and captain slotted low into the bottom corner.

El-Abd had picked up a knock and was replaced by Field on 41 minutes.

Another defensive error by the hosts saw Hutchings latch on to the ball and he beat Smith with a low attempt to make it 202 six minutes before the break.

Prior went close with a shot on 47 minutes which somehow was deflected off the line by Michael Olarewaju and into the grateful arms of Brannon.

Bognor took the lead for a third time though when debutant Charman volleyed in on 49 minutes. A cross found him in the heart of the area and he volleyed in with the goalkeeper stranded.

Nilsen replaced Charman on 52 minutes.

Good work down the right for Bognor saw Parsons get clear before pinging the ball across the box but neither Pearce nor Stuart Green could capitalise.

Green miscued another chance after a decent cross from the left fell to him just inside the box.

Parsons combined with Prior before letting fly with an attempt at a cross that whizzed only narrowly over the bar.

Frankie Sawyer and Fabio Saraiva came on for Rhule and Tutu Henriques on 66 minutes for the visitors, while young defender Jamie Horncastle replaced Daryl Wollers for Bognor.

Bognor extended their lead on 68 minutes. Prior spun his defender just outside the box and struck a curling effort with his left boot which beat Brannon high into the opposing goal, completing his hat-trick.

Parsons and Olarewaju clashed in a 50/50 challenge and Tom Kavanagh headed over from a corner for the visitors.

Merstham did pull a goal back on 85 minutes. Hall did well to turn his defender before blasting a shot low beyond Smith.

This meant a nervy four minutes of added-on time with Merstham piling forward at every opportunity. Sawyer went close to giving them a point after getting into the box and firing agonisingly wide.

But Bognor held on for victory in this first game. Prior was the stand-out player and he will be a key man if the Rocks are to mount a serious promotion bid this season.

Rocks: Smith, Crane, Wollers (Horncastle 66), Charman (Nilsen 52), El-Abd (Field 41), Robson, Green, Thomson, Prior, Pearce, Parsons. Unused Subs: Whyte, Dodd

Report by LIAM GOODLEY

The Rocks go to Staines on Tuesday night - see this website for a report on the night, and the Bognor Observer for all the latest from the Lane on Thursday

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